The Long Gray Line

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

On a bright sunlit plain overlooking the Hudson River in June of 1962, 807 of America’s finest entered the service of the United States as cadets at the United States Military Academy. After four years of an exacting and rigorous program, 579 young men received commissions as lieutenants in the United States Army. In another four years, thirty were dead (by far the greatest number of casualties suffered by any class in Vietnam) and another one-third were civilians--the highest resignation rate in the history of the Academy.

At first glance it would appear that attempting a biographical approach to an entire class of West Point cadets is hubris of the highest order. Fortunately Rick Atkinson was not dissuaded by the magnitude of the task, and readers of THE LONG GRAY LINE will be thankful indeed. Atkinson has managed to personalize the reality of the life of the cadet, the particular horror of small unit actions in Vietnam and the combination of tedium, bureaucratic indifference, and satisfying sacrifice which constitutes life in any army in time of peace.

This work is anything but linear; the author allows himself digressions which take the reader down the numerous avenues and byways demanded by the material. Nevertheless, Atkinson never strays so far from the essential theme that an easy return is not possible. He follows the life and career of nine members of the Class of 1966 and the women who loved them, grieved for them, and joined them in their commitment to the service of their nation. THE LONG GRAY LINE is an exceptional work of nonfiction which has all the drama and pathos of a superb novel. This book is essential reading for those who wish to gain at least a minimal understanding of the effect of the war in Vietnam upon those who survived, its impact upon the U.S. Army as an institution, and the ideological infrastructure behind the contemporary reform movement.